Media Redemption

Like Jill Kelley, Paula Broadwell Eyes Comeback After Petraeus Scandal

Now that Jill Kelley has broken her silence, David Petraeus’s former gal pal could be next. Howard Kurtz on Broadwell’s media strategy—and whether she’ll be able to resume her career.

01.23.13 9:45 AM ET

Paula Broadwell could be next to venture into shark-infested media waters.

Now that Jill Kelley has broken her silence in a Daily Beast interview, the question naturally arises whether David Petraeus’s former mistress might do the same.

People familiar with her thinking tell me the answer is yes.

Broadwell plans to answer questions about the Petraeus mess in a limited way, they say, as a way of putting the sordid controversy behind her.

The goal for the foreseeable future, they say, is for Broadwell to be able to step back into the public square and resume her career. She essentially dropped out of sight after the scandal exploded and Petraeus was forced to resign as CIA director.

It’s unlikely that Broadwell would sit for a two-hour interview, as Kelley did with me. But the onetime academic is also said to realize that she cannot join panel discussions or national-security debates without offering some accounting of what happened with Petraeus.

While Kelley is unaccustomed to dealing with the media and was nervous about our sit-down, her task is in many ways far easier. She was the wronged party, having received a spate of anonymous emails from Broadwell that she describes as threatening. The worst she was accused of was sending, oh, 30,000 flirtatious emails to Gen. John Allen. And the Pentagon inspector general, in clearing Allen on Tuesday, confirmed that the messages did not warrant any action and that there were only a few hundred, as Kelley told me.

Broadwell, who wrote a glowing biography of Petraeus and promoted it on such venues as The Daily Show, is at ease before the cameras. But she has much more explaining to do.

Broadwell and the former four-star general, both married, did have an affair, as detailed by Petraeus’s not-so-secret Gmail account. She did use her access to him in Afghanistan to move from biographer to lover in a way that cost him his job. She did send nasty anonymous emails to Kelley, whom Broadwell obviously viewed as a rival for Petraeus’s affections.

The questions, when Broadwell decides to answer them, will be tricky: did the affair start in Kabul, which would have subjected Petraeus to military discipline? Did she take home any classified documents? Why on earth did she go after Kelley in such a heavy-handed way? And why did she feel comfortable publishing her book, All In, about the man she was, well, embedded with? (OK, only journalists may care about the last one.)

What’s more, does she need to make a public show of contrition—say, by appearing on Oprah?

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Still, affairs in Washington are hardly a rarity. Is Broadwell going to be tarred forever? Doesn’t she have a right to resume her career?

I got a bit of flak for interviewing Kelley, though the story was widely picked up: why dive into this tabloid yarn? Why did I write a favorable piece?

For the record, there were no conditions placed on the interview. Kelley came to me because she thought I’d be fair and because she wanted to unload on the media, which I’ve spent my career critiquing.

I didn’t make the David-and-Paula-and-John-and-Jill saga a media spectacle. I argued at the time that while it was a perfectly legitimate story, the press was going way overboard.

But Kelley found herself in the eye of a media storm, and the subject of reports we now know to be inaccurate about the alleged blizzard of Allen emails. Having been branded the Other Other Woman, didn’t she deserve a chance to tell her side of the story?

Would anyone have objected if I had interviewed Petraeus or Allen on the same subject?

And that brings me to an inescapable observation. Women always have a harder time moving on from these matters, as if they are solely to blame.

To take but one example, Bill Clinton is now a global statesman, and Monica Lewinsky was never able to find a career.

I’m sure that a year from now, Petraeus will be on the lecture circuit, perhaps working for a university, appearing on television. What happened with Broadwell will be seen as a smudge on his record.

For Broadwell—and Kelley—the road back is much steeper. And that’s a double standard perpetuated by the press.